Award-winning news anchor Janet Hall O’Neil and her husband Frank O’Neil have generously funded an endowed faculty position in the College of Communication & Information Sciences (C&IS). The Endowed Faculty Position in Journalistic Integrity will emphasize how the business model in news impacts journalism. Hall hopes the gift will help teach fairness and ethical reporting for future generations.
“I believe it is crucial, now more than ever, to promote and nurture journalistic integrity in our classrooms. Great journalism doesn’t just happen; it must be intentional and it must be protected,” Hall said.
Hall graduated from The University of Alabama with a B.A. in broadcast and film. She served the state of Alabama as a reporter and a news anchor for more than 40 years, notably as the co-anchor of WBRC FOX6 News. She has been recognized with numerous awards throughout her career including the Associated Press Best Anchor in Alabama in 2001 and 1994, as well as awards for Best Feature Story, Best Documentary and Extraordinary Coverage of a Planned Event.
In 1999 Hall was named the “Local Hero in the Fight Against Breast Cancer” by the Komen Foundation. In 1998 she was given the “She Knows Where She’s Going Award” by Girls Incorporated of Alabama, and in 1997 she was recognized by Birmingham AIDS Outreach for Best Media Coverage in the fight against AIDS/HIV. Hall has served the community as a board member of AIDS Alabama, The American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries, and Urban Ministries. She is a long-standing volunteer and supporter of The Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure and The Hoover School System’s Finley Awards.
Hall is also a member of the C&IS Board of Visitors, and she was awarded the C&IS Betsy Plank Distinguished Achievement Award in 2004 and the C&IS Outstanding Alumni Award in 1989.
Frank O’Neil received his B.A. in broadcasting and journalism and M.A. in communication from UA and is the former senior vice president and chief communication officer for ProAssurance. He has also served as an adjunct instructor for UA and Birmingham-Southern College. O’Neil shares his wife’s passion for journalism and hopes the endowed faculty position will encourage integrity within the profession.
“True journalism requires not only even-handed, unbiased reporting of the facts. It must be supported by a viable business model that values and supports integrity,” O’Neil said. “Our hope is that this fellowship will promote the development of media business models that will allow true journalism to flourish in the new digital age.”
Both Hall and O’Neil credit C&IS with providing them a basis of knowledge they would use to begin their successful careers. They believe the new Endowed Faculty Position in Journalistic Integrity will inspire current C&IS students to develop an ethical foundation for their professional careers in news media.
“The University provided each of us with a strong foundation for successful careers in news and communications. We are honored to help provide a new foundation for the highly-qualified future communications professionals now being trained at The University of Alabama,” they said.
Endowed faculty positions are a funding priority for C&IS as part of the Rising Tide Capital Campaign. The Rising Tide Capital Campaign is a University-wide effort to raise a minimum of $1.5 billion in philanthropic support for strategic priorities over a 10-year period. For more information, visit risingtide.ua.edu.
The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) is pleased to establish a new endowed scholarship in honor of the late E. Bruce Harrison.
Harrison was a leader in the journalism and public relations fields for more than four decades. Known as the “Dean of Green PR,” he held several executive positions where he led campaigns supporting his passion for environmental communication. He served as the vice president and environmental information officer of the Chemical Manufacturers of America and vice president and chief communication officer of Freeport Minerals Co. He also co-founded one of the most successful PR firms dedicated to environmental communications, E. Bruce Harrison & Co.
Harrison’s success and excellent leadership led to his achievement of many honors and awards including the Betsy Plank Distinguished Achievement Award from C&IS in 2001. He is also a recipient of the Page Distinguished Service Award from the Arthur W. Page Society – the world’s premier membership organization for communication professionals.
Even with an array of public relations accomplishments, Harrison always had an admiration and love for journalism – the field where his career began. The former journalist shared this enjoyment for the field with his wife, Patricia Harrison, who is the longest-serving president and chief executive officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
The E. Bruce Harrison Memorial Scholarship is generously funded by Harrison’s wife, Patricia, and will be awarded to C&IS students majoring in journalism.
“I know Bruce would be so proud that his commitment to journalism will be carried forward through this important University of Alabama Scholarship,” his wife said.
Harrison leaves behind a legacy of compassionate generosity toward C&IS students and rising journalism professionals. The College is proud to honor him through this endowed scholarship that will promote excellence in journalism.
Imagine this: You worked hard for your engineering degree—tackling complicated mathematics courses, co-oping for nationally acclaimed manufacturing companies and putting in the extra hours with study groups and tutors to ensure your academic success. Your academic credentials and co-op experience helped you land a great job out of college with a better-than-average starting salary and healthy company culture. After two years at the company, you finally get the opportunity to lead a project—a small project, but one you can proudly put your name on.
So, you carefully listen to your client’s needs, you and your team come up with a few different solutions at various price points and pick the one you agree your client will like the most. Your team creates charts and graphs, drafts talking points and ENGINEERED TO SPEAK timelines, and even manages to come in slightly under budget. Now, it’s time to present your pitch to the client. In front of a conference room filled with various stakeholders in your client’s business, you run through your presentation. But why do they have so many questions? Why do they look so confused and overwhelmed? You triple-checked all the math, priced every project component competitively and it’s all laid out in the presentation clearly—or is it?
As some of the brightest minds in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), engineers have a language all their own—but not everyone speaks that language. Translating complicated and nuanced ideas into the vernacular of everyday people with confidence and clarity is an essential component to success in the engineering world. As a campus partner to UA’s College of Engineering, C&IS prepares and equips engineering students to meet these challenges head on and excel as leaders in their careers through its valuable faculty expertise and classroom instruction, as well as the opportunities provided to master their craft.
EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
If anyone at The University of Alabama are experts on public speaking, it’s Dr. Alexa Chilcutt and Dr. Adam Brooks, who serve as the director of C&IS’ public speaking program and the director of the Speaking Studio, respectively. Chilcutt and Brooks have designed and administered more than 100 professional development workshops for corporations and continuing education departments nationwide, teaching a vast skillset of transferable communication skills.
“What we’re seeing across the globe is a large conversation about how quickly we’re advancing in technologies and the ways in which this is going to fundamentally transform our country and the world,” said Brooks. “However, many of these brilliant minds—scientists, engineers, software developers— lack the skills and knowledge to effectively communicate their ideas to any audience.”
This is why, in 2019, Brooks and Chilcutt incorporated their stories and strategies into their book Engineered to Speak: Helping You Create and Deliver Engaging Technical Presentations. The first of its kind, the book is designed to pair their approachable workshop style with the experiences of dozens of technical professionals to teach oral communication, public speaking and visual aid design skills specifically to a STEM audience.
Brooks and Chilcutt are not the only professionals to notice the gap between the need for engineers to make presentations and their proficiency with public speaking. In fact, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which is the accrediting body for more than 4,000 engineering programs in 32 countries, recently updated their criteria for Accrediting Engineering Technology Programs. The update now includes “an ability to apply written, oral and graphical communication in both technical and non‐technical environments; and an ability to identify and use appropriate technical literature.”
As these leaders in engineering education are enhancing their commitment to developing the communication skills of engineering students, C&IS experts are providing them with practical solutions to make the shift as simple as possible.
“Engineering curriculum is intense and extremely dense. It is difficult for them to squeeze in a course devoted to communication. Now, according to ABET they are required to incorporate learning outcomes that ensure proficient communication skills,” said Chilcutt. “We have specifically written the book to include a 10-module curriculum. This will allow engineering programs to drop learning modules into existing curriculum.”
PUBLIC SPEAKING CLASSES
Depending on the exact course of study, an engineering major enrolled at The University of Alabama will have a schedule with heavy portions of math, chemistry and computer sciences. These are not courses that emphasize the art or importance of effective communication, and unlike other majors on campus, their structured course list does not afford them a plethora of chosen electives.
In 2011, Chilcutt collaborated with aeronautical and mechanical engineering faculty who received funding from the National Science Foundation to create a research experience for UA Engineering students. For the next eight summers, Chilcutt designed the communication component of this curriculum for engineering students and taught summer courses exclusively for them. Since then, Brooks and Chilcutt are viewed as campus-wide experts and requested to speak with senior capstone engineering courses. They have also hosted workshops on how to give effective presentations.
In addition to the years of support Chilcutt and Brooks have provided to assist engineering faculty, C&IS offers public speaking courses for students all across campus. Currently four UA Engineering degrees require COM 123: Public Speaking. According to Dr. Ed Back, Professor and Department Chair of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, this course has had a tremendous impact.
“In professional practice you present proposals, defend your solutions and deal with really challenging questions,” said Back. “Being able to communicate is really essential. Our graduates who possess a well-developed technical competency but can also communicate effectively—their careers just skyrocket.”
While upper-level courses in UA Engineering stress communication as a learning outcome, leading team conversations and delivering complicated presentations to a variety of audiences are skills that can be acquired by learning the basics. In addition to the way Brooks and Chilcutt teach public speaking, their book emphasizes a process to public speaking that transcends natural abilities and personal charisma.
“What Adam and I found in talking to countless engineers and technical professionals is that they love a good process,” said Chilcutt. “If you give them a process—a blueprint for how to put together a presentation and step-by-step instructions for crafting a speech—they follow it. Then, if they get a little bit outside of their comfort zone and embrace a delivery style, charisma and creativity, they’re just brilliant.”
Engineering students who wish to improve their public speaking skills have connected with C&IS in a variety of different ways. In addition to the hundreds who have taken COM 123 over the years, many have entered the speech contest for the Holle Award for Excellence and Creativity in Communication for Public Speaking; a few have even won. Still yet, the engineering students who seem to have excelled the most have crafted their skills behind the desk of the College’s public speaking laboratory, the Speaking Studio.
THE SPEAKING STUDIO
When chemical engineering graduate, Russell Durand (’18), was finishing his first co-op rotation at Kia Automotive’s manufacturing plant in Georgia, he was asked to give a presentation in front of upper management. Reflecting on the presentation and knowing that more were sure to come as he continued his co-op experience, Durand took it upon himself to enhance his skill level with public speaking.
“Engineering students have to know what technical information to share and how to share it in a way that it makes sense to someone who might not have the same background,” said Durand. “I wanted to get involved with something public speaking related because I saw that students sometimes had really good projects they completed as interns, but, because they couldn’t craft that clear message, the project kind of got brushed over.”
The Speaking Studio actively recruits students from all over campus to serve as consultants. This role offers a transformational experience that enhances their skills and their comfort level with public speaking, as well as their ability to craft effective messages. Now working at the Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company, Durand credits much of his success to the time he spent developing his skills at the Speaking Studio, where he also worked as a consultant.
“I learned a lot as a Speaking Studio consultant,” said Durand. “It helped me improve tremendously because, as I helped others, I was working on it myself—seeing what’s effective and what’s not effective. It helped me get this job at Exxon.”
During an appointment at the Speaking Studio, trained public speaking consultants like Durand record a client’s presentation and offer them immediate feedback. This is the only service on campus that offers this kind of feedback, and consultants can critique and encourage clients who are crafting both individual and group presentations.
Durand is not the only UA graduate currently working in the STEM field with experience as a Speaking Studio consultant. After graduation, Alexa Rosenberg (’20) began working for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center for a program that offers prizes to the public for solving technical problems NASA faces such as how to get increased nutrients in astronaut diets.
According to Rosenberg, her experience with public speaking played largely into why she was selected for her role. “My boss saw my Speaking Studio experience on my application and said, ‘Thank God. None of us like presenting,” said Rosenberg. “They gave me a project to work on that includes a full presentation to NASA headquarters, which was exciting.”
Whether UA students are pursuing a degree from C&IS, engineering or something entirely different, diverse experiences and skillsets increase their marketability to potential employers. And students who served as Speaking Studio consultants often directly tie these experiences to helping them launch successful careers and fast-tracking their promotability.
Now, imagine you’re back in the conference room in front of your client. All of your math, charts and graphs, and budget are ready and prepared. It’s time again for the big pitch— only this time, it’s not just your skill as an engineer you bring to the table. Your clear and confident message captures your client’s attention because you supplemented your education with experience and instruction from the leading experts in the field of public speaking.
Engineers have some of the brightest technical minds in the world and communicating their ideas effectively distinguishes them in their field. As the University continues to educate and graduate global leaders in the world of STEM education, a commitment to excellence in communication will ensure their success. At C&IS, our public speaking curriculum, Speaking Studio and expert faculty will lead the way in shaping the next generation of engineering professionals.
The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) is dedicated to fostering collaboration, unity and passion through distinguished faculty and staff. This fall, C&IS welcomes six new faculty members who bring with them each a notable record of academic achievement. C&IS is proud to introduce the new faculty who will continue the College’s tradition of excellence:
Dr. Xiaoti Fan, Visiting Assistant Professor, Communication Studies
Dr. Dimitrios Latsis, Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Studies
Dr. Dongjae “Jay” Lim, Assistant Professor, Advertising and Public Relations
Camille DeBose, Instructor, Journalism and Creative Media
Nora Stone, Visiting Instructor, Journalism and Creative Media
Zachary Tigert, Instructor, Journalism and Creative Media
Minerva Portfolio Program students finished out the academic year strong with a total of 21 creative advertising awards won in regional, national and international competitions.
Minerva is the creative portfolio specialization in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. The two-year program places selected students into a cohort through a rigorous application process and guides them through an intense process of creative discovery.
“The work created by Minerva Portfolio Program students this year was outstanding,” said Mark Barry, director of Minerva. “And, to have accomplished what they did while navigating virtual classes, managing physical isolation, and enduring the emotional traumas caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing short of exceptional. They are a special group for sure.”
Two student teams brought home Awards of Merit from the Young Ones Student Awards put on by The One Club for Creativity in New York. The Young Ones competition is considered one of the premier competitions for creative students internationally. The student submissions responded to a creative brief submitted by Spotify and Extra Gum.
The complete list of the 2020-21 Minerva student awards is as follows:
1 Silver National American Advertising Awards (ADDYs):
Farrow & Ball, Colour Tells a Story – Kat Best, Art Director and Nicole Zikan, Copywriter
Telling stories was first connected to telling untruths. When I was a little girl and the word “lie” was considered too grown up to say out loud, I would profess, complain or declare that such and such or so and so was “telling stories” on me. That usually meant their version of what happened was not the same as mine, or that they were intentionally, if not maliciously distorting what I perceived to be the truth or leaving out what I believed to be important details and context.
Telling stories, at the time, was a way of acknowledging a perceived injustice and seeking the space and opportunity to offer a counter-story, a different truth, for comparison before punishment.
As an adult, I associate telling stories both similarly and differently than I did when I was a child. Instead of equating storytelling with lies, I now understand that telling stories is akin to truth-telling, and truth is a complicated character. The truth is embedded within, between and underneath the stories we tell, and buried behind the stories we intentionally withhold. Stories help memorialize memories, but often fail to account for the multiple truths trying to be told and remembered. I tell stories as a mechanism for getting to the (small t) truth, and for making sense of those truths through reflection, revision and re-storying.
Telling stories, now, is a way of acknowledging a perceived injustice and seeking the space and opportunity to offer multiple accounts, perspectives, possibilities and truths—a way of anchoring lived experience and making concrete the ways our experiences are shaped by our identities. As a storyteller, I start with and linger in mundanity and ordinariness, but I am also intentional about standpoints and positionalities. Stories emerge through the ways we craft and communicate our experiences, which are framed and understood by cultural contexts, interpersonal relationships, social identity and media.
I believe, like Walter Fisher (1978), that humans are inherent storytellers, and all meaningful communication is storied. Our ears do not always bend to the ubiquitous stories we consume every day, and we don’t always recognize phatic communion, introductions, and newsfeeds as stories, but they are. We don’t always think about communication as storied, but it is.
I tell stories poetically, politically, creatively and unapologetically, but I understand that all stories and representations are partial and partisan, which makes them problematic (Goodall, 2000). Stories are not infallible. We tell stories that tend to focus on our experience (partial), and from our point of view (partisan/subjective), but our stories don’t exist in isolation. We connect to stories like our own because personal narratives and experiences help inform generalizable, epistemological truths.
My career is curated on the ways we use stories to comprehend and critique, to record and remember, to make sense of and explain, and to connect with known and unknown others. Stories are bridges across difference and anchors to understanding.
As a black woman storyteller and autoethnographer my investment in storied scholarship is grounded in the importance of visibility, imagination and possibility. The futuristic and historical promises of storytelling are what makes it accessible, and the ability to deconstruct and analyze stories are what makes them theoretical. Theory urges us to attach meaning and intent to stories, but I believe stories are themselves theories, and we are all nascent if not reluctant theorists. We are all nascent, if not naïve storytellers.
As a child, I told stories to fill in the gaps and rehearse sensemaking. As an adult, I write stories for those same reasons and rely on some of my same childhood rituals. I grew up in a house full of people, so I still write when it is dark outside and everything is still and sometimes quiet so I can hear the rhythm of the words as I type. I still jot down notes in hurried handwriting—names, phrases, scenes or memories on napkins, scraps of paper, or on my hands, careful not to smudge the ink before I can memorialize the data. I still write with the door closed if someone is at my house, and open when I am alone. I still wait to write when I am pushed up against a deadline. I write when the dishes are washed, the clothes are folded, and the bathrooms are cleaned because I am easily distracted by opportunities for procrastination.
I still read for inspiration.
I write memory-heavy stories, grounded in my childhood or past but threaded with the present in ways that establish verisimilitude, coherence and fidelity to my narrative. I write stories to imagine justice when and where it doesn’t exist. I write stories to make claims and cultural critiques. I write stories so I can see and remember myself—and other people like me, and people who are nothing like me.
A good story lingers and stays with you. It changes how you think—and what you think about. It resonates and informs how you see yourself
and others. A good story captures your attention and insists existence.
I tell stories to insist on my existence—as a rural black woman—in academic scholarship, popular culture and community.
I know myself because of the stories shared across conversations and kitchen tables with women in my family and community: my mother,
my grandmother, my aunts, cousins, sister and friends.
I found myself in the stories of black women storytellers who told truths and centered the experiences of black women.
I recognized myself in the story-grounded research of black women scholars who insisted that our survival be documented and canonized.
I tell stories to leave the same legacy I inherited, and to silence the lies that are too often spoken out loud.
Confidant, a creative and strategic communications agency with offices in New York and Nashville, has pledged $10,000 to establish a scholarship focused on diversity within the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) at The University of Alabama for the 2021-22 academic year.
The scholarship will assist in promoting increased diversity among the College’s student population with a particular focus on students studying public relations and who demonstrate financial need. In addition to the monetary award, the selected student will receive a full-time paid internship with Confidant in New York City during the Summer of 2022 and ongoing mentorship from employees of the company.
Garland Harwood, co-founder of Confidant and a UA alumnus, hopes that by establishing this opportunity for a student, other companies in the industry will follow suit in serving students and paving the way for more diversity in the communications industry.
“Creating a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do in light of the inequities that have long existed in our society, it’s also what’s best for business,” Harwood said. “Diversity on our team, and the industry at large, leads to more diverse ideation and better outcomes for all. Our hope is that this model will eliminate the barriers that many students face in getting great experience early on, including income, geographic residence, or legacy. It counters many agency internship programs that favor students with connections to senior executives at an agency or its clients.”
According to Dr. Damion Waymer, C&IS advertising and public relations department chair, the College is grateful to see innovative companies supporting its continued diversification efforts.
“It is one thing for a company to say it is committed to diversifying the practice of public relations. It’s another thing entirely for a company such as Confidant to demonstrate its commitment to diversity via concrete actions, including financial support, professional mentorship, and paid internship experiences for our students,” Waymer said. “We truly appreciate Confidant’s generosity, and I hope this partnership signals to our students and the larger university community our collective commitment to diversity and its importance to both our department and the college.”
C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion and is proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff. To learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion in C&IS, visit cis.ua.edu/diversity.
C&IS Alumni Champion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Across their Industries
A signal achievement of 2020 at The University of Alabama came through significant work by UA’s Presidential Advisory Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Charged with developing plans to build on the campus-wide strategic goal to attract and support a diverse community, members of the faculty, staff and students produced a comprehensive report of strategies, best practices and research. This report of recommendations will guide the work of the colleges and units as UA moves forward toward continued progress. The same work and progress is taking place around the country as corporations and organizations dive deep into listening to and understanding their employees and constituents so they may take necessary steps forward. C&IS alumni are leading and influencing their industries throughout the nation. Here are just a few stories of how our graduates are championing diversity, equity and inclusion across their industries.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is not only critical to creating a productive work environment, but also to creating more meaningful campaigns that reach and resonate with our clients’ diverse audiences. When you think of DEI in terms of gender, women have historically outnumbered men in the field of public relations, but lagged behind them in leadership roles. That’s why I’m proud to work for an agency like Edelman that prioritizes DEI and truly ‘walks the walk’ through education and training, recruitment programs and employee networks like the Global Women’s Equality Network (GWEN), launched in 2011 to achieve gender parity at our most senior levels and ensure equal pay for equal work.”
“Every community has members of the LGBTQIA community in it, and providing these patrons with the information they need is perhaps even more crucial than my usual duties. Working to highlight our LGBTQIA materials is a simple, meaningful step that we as librarians can take to show our LGBTQIA community members that we welcome them and are proactively thinking about their needs. The public library is one of the last truly public institutions remaining in this country, and we work to uphold that incredible precedent by ensuring that everyone in our community can find the information that they want and need in a respectful, dignified way.”
–Elizabeth Burton (’20) – Adult Programs Librarian, Harris County Public Library
“As communication professionals, we play a unique role in creating inclusive workplaces. We know that years of inequality cannot be solved with one press release or one social media campaign. It is our job to challenge our clients and business leaders in this space. One way to improve diversity in our own industry is by mentoring and supporting students of diverse backgrounds as they matriculate to college and into the workforce. If we want to have more diversity and inclusion in our industry, we all need to take a proactive role in mentoring the next generation of our industry’s leaders.”
–Jennifer Kitt-West (’07) – Marketing Communications Manager, Dow Chemical Company
“I’ve learned that true diversity, true equity and true inclusion happens when we can place ourselves in the shoes of someone else’s journey and open doors of knowledge, engagement and opportunities to access a better understanding of what each other needs. Regardless of my position to power and authority, I have learned that great leaders (and friends) have always been the ones who were capable of demonstrating high levels of empathy and compassion when times were most crucial. In my role, we work with philanthropists who often say, “I want the best and the brightest.” Does that only mean those who have 3.5 GPAs and higher? If we are to be inclusive of everyone, then we must see the value of those who strive hard. We must see the value in those who have challenges to overcome. We must look at those who may not be book smart but have street smarts that far exceed the classroom setting.”
–Joshua Butler (’07) – Associate Dean of Advancement and Chief Advancement Officer, The University of Illinois at Chicago
“Each person on a communication team has to have a global view of the business world. Every strategy and tactic that we deploy has an impact that is far reaching. Diversity, equity and inclusion has to be incorporated in those strategies and tactics, not separated. When an employee is working on a project, I encourage them to think about how we can broaden the audiences that we are reaching. We have successfully done that, and more people who may not have known us are now enthusiasts—all because of our inclusive strategy. I expect them to think about diversity, equity and inclusion continuously.”
–Kristina Hendrix (’03) – Group Communications Director, Dynetics, Inc.
“Studies show that companies with diverse leadership at the board, executive and management levels outperform those without. Work teams that value diversity and inclusion are likely to be more collaborative, innovative and productive. In today’s environment, proclamations favoring diversity, equity and inclusion will not be enough to retain the most talented and skilled employees, especially if societal tensions and injustices embed themselves in our workplaces.”
–Debra Nelson (’80) – Founder and President, Elevate LLC
The Society of Professional Journalists has awarded Alabama Public Radio (APR) a Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentary for its submission “Oil & Water: 10 Years Later,” covering the ongoing impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf coast.
“I am so proud of the APR news team and delighted that their work earned the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentary,” said Elizabeth Brock, director of the Digital Media Center. “At a time when news cycles for even the big stories last an average of seven days, this kind of work is critically important. The support of The University of Alabama and our colleagues at the College of Communication and Information Sciences and the generosity of our listeners and supporters make it all possible.”
The documentary brings together coverage APR produced in 2010, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and follow-up interviews gathered in the first four months of 2020. It covers a variety of long-term effects of the spill, including the economic impact and the effect the oil spill had on locals’ mental and physical health.
In an effort to address the lack of investigative and in-depth news reporting along Alabama’s Gulf coast, APR News Director Pat Duggins recruited and trained veteran print journalists in Mobile and Baldwin counties to join the news team and produce radio stories as APR Gulf coast correspondents. “Oil and Water: 10 Years Later” features the work of correspondents Guy Busby, who investigated the economic impact of the spill on local businesses, and Lynn Oldshue, who investigated the health impacts Gulf coast locals experienced after being exposed to chemicals used to help disperse the oil.
Duggins with Busby
Duggins with Oldshue
“I’m delighted that Guy and Lynn share in the spotlight for this prestigious award,” says APR news director Pat Duggins. “APR and its listeners know what a great job they do for us, and now the broadcast journalism industry does as well.”
This is APR’s fourth Sigma Delta Chi Award, having won back-to-back honors in 2011 and 2012 for coverage of the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado, and in 2016 for a documentary outlining their six-month investigation of the Alabama prison system.
Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations licensed by The University of Alabama and located in Bryant-Denny Stadium’s Digital Media Center. Its affiliation with the College of Communication and Information Sciences gives students opportunities for practical training in a variety of production activities.
About the Sigma Delta Chi Awards: First awarded in 1932, the Sigma Delta Chi Award recognizes the best in professional journalism in categories covering print, radio, television, newsletters, art/graphics and online. To learn more about the Sigma Delta Chi Awards, visit https://www.spj.org/a-sdx.asp.
C&IS students learn content marketing in innovative Twitch class
The advent of the internet dramatically reshaped the entire world, bringing together people from all backgrounds and experiences to communicate with each other and share their stories. Years later, social media would enhance that connectivity and bring us even closer together, providing platforms for all users to share videos, photos and more. Today, new platforms are popping up every day, enhancing the online conversation and introducing new neighbors from every corner of the globe.
As new platforms continue to emerge, they are shaped by a young generation of content geniuses bursting at the seams with entrepreneurial spirit and creative potential. At C&IS, part of equipping the next generation of global leaders in the world of communication and information is encouraging growth in and mastery of new emerging platforms through experience and practice. For now, that new platform is Twitch.
Twitch launched in 2011 as a new streaming website showcasing live-streamed video games and live e-sports. By 2014, the platform was purchased by Amazon and had more than 20 million visitors per month. Twitch became “the next big thing” in the tech industry, and advertising and public relations professionals quickly recognized a new creative outlet for getting content into households and onto devices all over the globe. Companies began promoting branded gaming content and partnering with streamers to sponsor them. As Twitch continued to grow, advertising strategies from major brands developed to sync with the platform and the opportunities it presented. In 2019, consumer brands spent more than $650 million on sponsorships and branded content for online streaming platforms globally. The total for 2020 surpassed $800 million, and experts predict the global spending to top $1 billion annually by 2022.
With Twitch advertising budgets at nearly $22 million and the website ranked the 14th most popular in the United States last year, the new platform can experience upwards of 2 billion hours in viewed content in one month alone. The future success of Twitch is clear now, but The University of Alabama took a chance on prioritizing the platform in the early days. That chance is paying off.
Three years ago, when COVID-19 was not part of our everyday vocabulary and the idea of a global sports stoppage was unthinkable, faculty in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations were building a partnership to help educate students on “the next big thing.” In 2018, Twitch was making its way to college campuses, and UA was one of the first institutions in the United States to launch an official university Twitch channel — the first school in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The channel was developed as a means to teach students about the platform and its relevancy to the advertising and public relations industries while also giving students a place to create their own original content.
Examining the analytics of their content viewership helps teams craft new content to address their audiences' feedback.
Student production teams collaborate to bring high-quality live streaming content to UA Twitch followers.
C&IS Instructor Randall Huffaker assists student Alyssa Harrison in setting up her Twitch livestream studio.
Today, students are learning the platform and practicing the art of creating their own original content through a regularly offered course specifically focused on Twitch. Developed by advertising and public relations senior instructor, Randall Huffaker, the course teaches students a variety of skills related to content marketing, including search engine optimization, social media and influencer marketing, analytics, and event promotion.
“There are billions of marketing dollars being poured into this streaming platform every year, so the potential for future public relations and advertising professionals who know the platform and can strategize with Twitch in mind is limitless,” said Dr. Kenon Brown, associate professor of advertising and public relations. Brown and Huffaker worked together to bring Twitch to UA’s campus.
The class is structured so that students work in collaborative teams where each student carries different responsibilities. Students might work on the “community management team” where they oversee the channel itself, from content to analytics. Or, they might work on the “writing team” or “creative team” where they are writing scripts or creating graphics to promote streaming events, gaming nights or interviews with industry professionals. The goal is that students contribute their unique talents while stretching themselves to learn something new through a very hands-on experience. To Huffaker, the class is about the original content creation; after all, that’s why people are part of the Twitch community.
“Taking ownership of their learning leads to a more motivated student,” said Huffaker. “They become more engaged with the concepts, preparing them for that next stage and the start of their career.”
In the C&IS Twitch class, students create content for an audience that they also develop and nurture throughout the semester. Essentially, in 12 weeks, students create a product and develop a ground-up content marketing campaign to promote it.
“It is very much a ‘learn as you go’ experience,” said J.J. McGrady, a senior public relations major from Prattville, AL, who was enrolled in the Twitch class last fall. McGrady was a member of the community management team. “We were able to learn on our own and find what content worked and what didn’t in an organic way.”
Huffaker understands what creative freedom can do in the learning process.
“I just want them to create and find things they’re passionate about and go to work,” said Huffaker. “As they create and analyze the content, they can tell a story with the data to make meaningful changes.”
“Content” can include anything from playing live video games and creating educational videos about photography, to recapping the latest episode of “The Bachelorette,” discussing UA athletics or giving a cooking demonstration. The point is for students to choose topics of their own interest and to build their content as a way of channeling that passion.
“It’s an exciting moment when the teams begin streaming their content and viewers from all over tune in, but the students know the work doesn’t stop there. That’s when we begin diving into the analytics,” said Huffaker.
Students learn how to analyze viewership metrics and social media analytics. They are responsible for adjusting their programming as necessary to reach larger audiences through Twitch and their other channels. The comprehensive and fully integrated learning experience is something the advertising and public relations department knows will give students an advantage in the industry.
“This class really helped pinpoint what aspect of public relations I would be interested in when I begin my career,” said Alyssa Harrison, design team leader for UA Twitch in fall 2020. “In the public relations field, having firsthand experience with content creation and how to use shared media platforms is a huge strength.”
What started as a class dedicated to preparing students for a new arena of marketing has now grown into a channel with national attention. The UA channel, created and managed by C&IS students, has participated in some of the biggest nationwide e-sports tournaments and the faculty has worked to garner sponsorships from worldwide companies such as Red Bull, Dell Computer, Mainline and Learfield IMC among others. And they are just getting started.
“The dollars and the data on Twitch speak for themselves,” said Brown. “We will continue to grow the course, the channel and the learning opportunities as Twitch continues to evolve and grow in the future. Our goal is to have the most highly-qualified and prepared graduates in the country and this course plays a part in that.”